May You Stay Forever Young(s)

September 23, 2017
1970 - Jesse Haines
1971 - Dave Bancroft
1971 - Chick Hafey
1972 - Ross Youngs
1973 - George Kelly
1974 - Jim Bottomley
1976 - Fred Lindstrom
1982 - Travis Jackson
 
Let’s play a little word association.  When you see the list above, what’s the first word or phrase that comes to mind?
 
A: "Veterans’ Committee"
B: "Frankie Frisch"
C: "These were the absolute low point of Hall of Fame selections, setting a bar so low that even Twiggy couldn’t limbo beneath it".
 
OK…that last option was a little more than simple "word" association.  But, you get the idea.  Most people familiar with that list of names quickly identify it as a series of selections made by the Hall of Fame Veterans’ Committee in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.  The commonality is that the players were all teammates of the legendary infielder, Frankie Frisch, first with the Giants (Bancroft, Youngs, Kelly, Lindstrom, Jackson) and then with the Cardinals (Haines, Hafey, Bottomley). 
 
Frisch was a member of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from the late ‘60’s to the early ‘70’s, and it’s apparent that he had a tremendous influence over that committee and many of its selections.  Now, these were not the only selections made by those committees.  Indeed, they were very busy during this general period – in the 1970’s, they inducted 32 individuals, or just over 3 per year. 
 
Frisch was not on the committee when all of these players were elected.  Frisch died in 1973, so the selections of Bottomley, Lindstrom, and Jackson came after his death.  Still, it was felt that Frisch had some lasting impact and influence on the committee and several of its members (such as Bill Terry, J. Roy Stockton, and Fred Lieb) and the connections of these players to Frisch were certainly noticeable.  It’s fair to say that, to many, this smacked of cronyism.  The first I remember becoming aware of these selections was when reading Bill James’ "The Politics of Glory" in the mid-‘90’s, but I know others have referenced this group both before and after that.
 
Now, these were all good players, and they were contributors to successful teams.  The Giants of the early 20’s won 4 consecutive NL pennants (and 2 World Series), and the Cardinals of the late ’20’s to the mid-30’s won 4 pennants (non-consecutive) and 2 World Series of their own.  In all, Frisch played on 8 pennant-winners in his 16 seasons as a regular with 4 World Series titles, a tremendous record of success.   Good players…..good teams.
 
I mentioned that I have been reading Jay Jaffe’s new book, "The Cooperstown Casebook", in which he leverages his "JAWS" methodology in analyzing Hall of Fame candidates.  JAWS is a system that takes a player’s career rWAR and averages it with the total of his 7 highest rWAR seasons to come up with a composite figure that proclaims to reflect both career and peak value.  He points out in one of the chapters that, for the most part, this series of selections fare quite poorly by that ranking system.  Going down the list, we see:
 
Jesse Haines – 303rd among starting pitchers (between Matt Kilroy and Mike Hampton)
Dave Bancroft – 25th among shortstops (between Joe Tinker and Troy Tulowitzki)
Chick Hafey – 60th among left fielders (between Mike Smith and Topsy Hartsel)
Ross Youngs – 69th among right fielders (between Gavvy Cravath and Carl Furillo)
George Kelly –89th among first basemen (between Travis Hafner and Paul Konerko)
Jim Bottomley – 56th among first basemen (between Lu Blue and Kevin Youkilis)
Fred Lindstrom – 72nd among third basemen (between Martin Prado and Melvin Mora)
Travis Jackson – 31st among shortstops (between Vern Stephens and Jimmy Rollins)
 
Needless to say, if you put any stock in these rankings when it comes to the Hall of Fame, that’s a pretty bad track record, with the possible exception of the 2 shortstops.
 
I’m certainly not here to defend those selections.  Most of them are pretty indefensible.  They definitely reek of favoritism.  However, one of the selections piques my interest because of the circumstances surrounding his life and career, and inspired me to dig a little deeper into his record.  That player is Ross Youngs
 
"Pep" Talk
 
Ross Youngs was born in 1897 in Shiner, Texas.  He hit .356 for Rochester in the International League in 1917, then got his cup of coffee for the Giants in late September and hit .346 over 7 games for the NL champs.  That led to a regular gig in 1918, and he proceeded to hit over .300 in every year of his big league career except for 1925 (more on that later), and finished with a .322 lifetime mark.  He picked up the nickname "Pep" from John McGraw for the way he hustled. 
 
Youngs, however, only ended up with a 10-year career including his 7-game stretch in 1917.  It’s a very short career for a Hall of Famer, which is certainly at the heart of the issue.  In 1924, he was exposed to a streptococcal infection (strep throat), and while we have much better ways to treat that today, in the 1920’s, it was very serious, and spread to other parts of his body.  In 1926, McGraw hired a male nurse to accompany Youngs everywhere during the season.  Youngs eventually became too ill to play, and played his final game in August of 1926.  He died in October 1927 from Bright’s Disease, a kidney disorder.  He was only 30 years old at the time of his death.
 
What intrigues me about Youngs’ Hall of Fame case is that he died so young, leaving his career cut off like a tree trunk absent its branches.  Most people relegate Youngs to the bottom rung of Hall of Famers because his career was so short and his career totals so unimpressive.  Generally, we just don’t like having Hall of Famers with short careers.  There are exceptions, of course.  Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Dizzy Dean, Ralph Kiner.  They all had short careers, as did others.  But, typically, for a Hall of Famer to be elected despite a short career, he really has to grab our attention.  Koufax was the dominant figure of the early-to-mid ‘60’s, winning 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP, pitching no-hitters, setting strikeout records, and demonstrating postseason excellence.   Jackie Robinson, in addition to being such a significant historical figure, was a multi-talented ballplayer, a leader on a successful team, a multi-year All-Star, and an MVP.  Roy Campanella won 3 MVP’s in his 10-year career.  Ralph Kiner won 7 consecutive home run titles.  Dizzy Dean won 30 games, an MVP, and was runner-up twice.  These players, despite short careers, had significant impact while they were active, and were ultimately very memorable.
 
Ross Youngs doesn’t seem to carry that same level of impact.  He played his last game over 90 years ago.  I doubt that anyone reading this article ever saw him play.  We have no footage of him that I’m aware of.  However, I felt compelled to dig a little deeper into his case.  I wanted to explore it much in the same way that Bill James did in the original Historical Abstract (the one from the mid-‘80’s, not the "New" Historical Abstract from the early 2000’s) when he examined the career of Ray Chapman and wondered whether he was on a Hall of Fame track at the time that he was struck by that fatal pitch from Carl Mays in 1920.  Like Chapman, Youngs played his last game at age 29.   So, I started wondering what a full career of Ross Youngs might project to, and whether or not he was on a Hall of Fame track prior to his illness.  That led to this article.
 
Ross Youngs Extrapolated (RYE)
 
From this point on, if you see "RYE", that’s my shorthand for "Ross Youngs Extrapolated".  It also happens to be my bread of choice for corned beef sandwiches, so that’s a happy coincidence.
 
To level set the review, below is Ross Youngs’ batting record from baseball-reference.com (I cut out a few columns for space).  This will be handy for future references later on:
 
Year
Age
G
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
WAR
Awards
1917
20
7
26
5
9
2
3
-
1
1
1
.346
.370
.654
215
0.4
 
1918
21
121
474
70
143
16
8
1
25
10
44
.302
.368
.376
128
3.0
 
1919
22
130
489
73
152
31
7
2
43
24
51
.311
.384
.415
140
3.9
 
1920
23
153
581
92
204
27
14
6
78
18
75
.351
.427
.477
159
6.4
 
1921
24
141
504
90
165
24
16
3
102
21
71
.327
.411
.456
128
3.8
 
1922
25
149
559
105
185
34
10
7
86
17
55
.331
.398
.465
120
3.8
 
1923
26
152
596
121
200
33
12
3
87
13
73
.336
.412
.446
126
3.6
 
1924
27
133
526
112
187
33
12
10
74
11
77
.356
.441
.521
159
5.9
MVP-5
1925
28
130
500
82
132
24
6
6
53
17
66
.264
.354
.372
89
(0.2)
 
1926
29
95
372
62
114
12
5
4
43
21
37
.306
.372
.398
109
1.6
 
Totals
 
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
153
550
.322
.399
.441
130
32.2
 
 
When looked at as a career, that’s obviously not very impressive by Hall of Fame standards.  Fewer than 1,500 hits.  rWAR of only 32.2.  Only 1,200 games played.  Not much "black ink"…..he led the league in runs once and doubles once.  Not what we expect of our legends.  Of course, by only playing though age 29…well, it’s tough to measure up to players who may have played twice as long as Youngs did.
 
One tool that can help is Similarity Scores.  Now, for those of you who have used Similarity Scores, you know that it is not a perfect tool, because it focuses on basic, unadjusted hitting statistics, so it doesn’t take into account differences in time, place, or context.  100 home runs is 100 home runs, regardless of where or when they were hit.  But, Similarity Scores are a good starting point for generating lists of players with comparable basic stats across different categories.
 
By the way….I used to use baseball-reference.com to look up Similarity Scores, but when they redesigned their site, it looks like some of the functionality surrounding Similarity Scores went away, unless I’m just not seeing it.  So, I now use Seamheads.com / The Baseball Gauge.  It’s more robust, and you can actually go beyond the "top 10" most similar players.  The lists differ slightly vs. baseball-reference.com, so there must be some differences in the calculations, but I think they’re substantially the same method.
 
If you look at Youngs’ entire career as a whole, his top 10 comps (short for "comparison players") are:
#
Players
Pos
Score
G
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
WAR
 
Ross Youngs*
RF
1000
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
550
153
.322
.399
32.2
1
Curt Walker
RF
934
1,359
4,858
718
1,475
235
117
64
688
535
96
.304
.374
21.9
2
Mike Smith
LF
927
1,234
4,684
912
1,454
196
136
37
663
636
232
.310
.398
42.9
3
Roy Johnson
LF
925
1,155
4,359
717
1,292
275
83
58
556
489
135
.296
.369
16.6
4
Tip O'Neill
LF
924
1,054
4,255
880
1,386
222
92
52
757
421
161
.326
.392
25.6
5
Chick Stahl
CF
922
1,304
5,069
858
1,546
219
118
36
622
470
189
.305
.369
31.7
6
John Stone
LF
916
1,200
4,494
739
1,391
268
105
77
707
463
45
.310
.376
25.1
7
Billy Southworth*
RF
906
1,192
4,359
661
1,296
173
91
52
561
402
138
.297
.359
21.0
8
Carl Reynolds
RF
902
1,222
4,495
672
1,357
247
107
80
699
260
112
.302
.346
20.9
9
Buddy Lewis
3B
902
1,349
5,261
830
1,563
249
93
71
607
573
83
.297
.368
26.7
10
Tommy Holmes
RF
901
1,320
4,992
698
1,507
292
47
88
581
480
40
.302
.366
34.3
 
Not a very impressive list.  Billy Southworth is the only Hall of Famer, but he’s in primarily for his managerial record, not his playing record.  There are some decent players on the list, but no one close to a Hall of Fame resume.  However, this similarity score compares totals for careers as a whole.
 
So, what happens if you compare Youngs to others of the same age that he was when he stopped playing?  Running similarity scores for players through age 29, you get the following (* denotes a Hall of Famer):
 
#
Players
 
Ross Youngs*
RF
1000
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
550
153
.322
.399
32.2
1
RF
933
1,080
4,086
735
1,306
206
120
43
612
444
240
.320
.397
40.4
2
LF
932
1,111
4,481
909
1,460
189
105
45
538
397
318
.326
.395
33.5
3
LF
912
1,015
3,922
776
1,211
197
108
34
556
527
254
.309
.395
26.7
4
3B
908
1,114
4,498
738
1,368
220
85
62
531
481
75
.304
.373
26.2
5
CF
905
1,031
4,155
888
1,306
136
96
55
617
494
338
.314
.390
22.1
6
LF
905
1,194
4,481
784
1,502
306
95
72
698
298
84
.335
.383
30.0
7
LF
903
1,259
4,976
771
1,550
319
86
64
819
486
23
.311
.375
21.5
8
LF
902
1,275
4,848
869
1,467
262
76
87
490
705
585
.303
.391
45.5
9
RF
902
1,060
4,078
617
1,354
192
51
45
416
382
221
.332
.389
35.4
10
CF
900
1,192
5,104
837
1,651
190
92
20
413
271
54
.323
.360
17.4
 
Average of Comps
 
 
1,140
4,478
794
1,424
223
92
52
571
458
213
.318
.381
30.1
 
Ross Youngs
 
 
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
550
153
.322
.399
32.2
 
Looks a little more promising, doesn’t it?  6 of his top 10 comps through age 29 are in the Hall of Fame.  The average of the 10 comps looks like a pretty good basic statistical match for Youngs, although Youngs’ OBP is about 20 points better than that of the comps.  4 of the 10 have higher rWAR’s than Youngs, while 6 have lower, which is a reasonable balance.  If a player is better  (or worse) than all of his comps, then I think it’s a less than ideal list.  All 10 comps in this case have scores of 900 or higher, implying a pretty high level of similarity, at least based on basic stats.
 
Let’s work with the list a little more.  Some of the comps aren’t what I would call "great" comps.  Youngs has a 32.2 rWAR through age 29.  Tim Raines had 45.5.  I think Raines though age 29 is significantly better than Youngs was, and certainly was in a much different class as a base stealer.  However, by the same token, I think Lloyd Waner (17.4) rates as much worse than Youngs.  They kind of cancel each other out anyway, but let’s use our judgment and eliminate them both from the comp list.  Let’s also subjectively eliminate Buddy Lewis, as he’s the only infielder among the top 10, and he also had an unusual career path that included missing 3 years to military service.  That would leave us with the following outfielders as comps:
 
Players
HR
RBI
Ross Youngs
RF
1000
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
550
153
.322
.399
32.2
RF
933
1,080
4,086
735
1,306
206
120
43
612
444
240
.320
.397
40.4
LF
932
1,111
4,481
909
1,460
189
105
45
538
397
318
.326
.395
33.5
LF
912
1,015
3,922
776
1,211
197
108
34
556
527
254
.309
.395
26.7
CF
905
1,031
4,155
888
1,306
136
96
55
617
494
338
.314
.390
22.1
LF
905
1,194
4,481
784
1,502
306
95
72
698
298
84
.335
.383
30.0
LF
903
1,259
4,976
771
1,550
319
86
64
819
486
23
.311
.375
21.5
RF
902
1,060
4,078
617
1,354
192
51
45
416
382
221
.332
.389
35.4
Average of Comps
 
 
1,120
4,351
787
1,398
223
94
50
606
447
204
.321
.384
30.2
Ross Youngs
 
1000
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
550
153
.322
.399
32.2
 
Let’s work with those players as our comp list.  What did those players do from age 30 and later?
 
Players
HR
RF
403
1,511
215
446
62
44
5
144
153
90
.295
.360
12.8
LF
1,131
4,087
710
1,212
172
115
22
477
477
188
.297
.370
34.3
LF
595
2,236
288
592
102
41
10
223
256
80
.265
.340
10.1
CF
957
3,879
754
1,228
150
65
14
397
377
245
.317
.377
20.1
LF
814
3,173
503
1,022
185
65
38
485
208
30
.322
.364
15.8
LF
155
496
47
132
16
6
1
55
28
-
.266
.305
(1.1)
Tony Gwynn
RF
1,380
5,210
766
1,787
351
34
90
722
408
98
.343
.391
33.4
Average of Comps
 
776
2,942
469
917
148
53
26
358
272
104
.312
.370
17.9
 
As you can see, typically when you do this type of technique, you get a wide range of results, since no 2 players age quite the same way.  2 of the players (Clarke and Gwynn) aged very well, and racked up some good post-age-29 totals.  Others, like Vosmik, were just about finished as players, and in fact provided negative WAR from that point forward.  But, that’s part of the reason why we want to pick several comps and not just one player, so that there’s a balance that helps smooth out the average future results.
 
So, what happens when you take Ross Youngs through age 29 and tack on the average post-29 performance of his comps?  You get this:
 
Players
HR
Ross Youngs through 29
1,211
4,627
812
1,491
236
93
42
592
550
153
.322
.399
32.2
Comps-Age 30 and after
776
2,942
469
917
148
53
26
358
272
104
.312
.370
17.9
Ross Youngs Extrapolated
1,987
7,569
1,281
2,408
384
146
68
950
822
257
.318
.385
50.1
 
In most of those categories, Youngs’ totals through age 29 represent roughly 60% of his extrapolated totals, a figure worth noting that we’ll revisit later.  Now, again, this is speculation.  No one knows what Ross Youngs would have accomplished in those years.  Maybe his batting average would have come down more than that.  Tony Gwynn had a rather high batting average after age 30, so you might be of the opinion that we should exclude Gwynn from the list.   Fair enough.  If we do exclude Gwynn, RYE’s batting average would come down to .315.  In other words, not that great of an impact.  Regardless of the exact numbers, I think Ross Youngs was on track for at least 2,400 hits, at least a .310 career batting average, and an rWAR north of 50.  That seems like a reasonable projection to me, and might even be a little on the conservative side.
 
Another way to look at what part of Ross Youngs’ record is missing is to look at what % of a player’s career is still ahead of him at age 29, not so much from direct comparisons to a small group of similar players, but rather from a broader set.  I downloaded some data from Fangraphs.com (which meant using fWAR instead of bWAR, so the individual figures are slightly different, but it was easier for me to download into a usable set), and grouped the values by age and by career fWAR tiers (I used non-pitchers only).  Here’s how that distribution looks, using age 29 as the dividing line:
 
 
Career fWAR
% of fWAR
Age 29 and below
% of fWAR
Age 30 and above
Zero or Less
85%
15%
>0 through 10
79%
21%
> 10 through 20
73%
27%
> 20 through 30
67%
33%
> 30 through 40
61%
39%
> 40 through 50
60%
40%
> 50 through 60
56%
44%
> 60 through 70
56%
44%
> 70 through 80
59%
41%
> 80
54%
46%
Overall
65%
35%
 
So, what this implies is that, for position players overall, about 65% of their eventual career value (as represented by fWAR) is realized through age 29.  However, it varies by level of career WAR.  Generally speaking, the more career WAR a player achieves, the higher their post-age 29 % is (except for the "blip" in the 70-80 group).  Intuitively, that makes sense….it implies that greater players tend to realize a higher % of their total career value later in their careers than lesser players do, which, since they’re greater players, stands to reason.  Greater players tend to play longer, and they have the opportunity to accumulate more late-career value, and often post some excellent results in their 30’s, where as lesser players tend to stop playing sooner or at least become significantly less effective as they age, and may have less of a chance to accumulate value at an older age.
 
So, how does this relate to Ross Youngs?  Well, Ross Youngs was a good player.  He achieved a career rWAR of 32.2 by age 29.  I think he belongs in one of the blue highlighted rows.  He already had more than 30 career rWAR, and he doesn’t strike me as the type that could have exceeded much beyond 60.  Players in that range (let’s say 30-70) on average tended to have realized about 60% of their career value through age 29, implying that about 40% of their career value would still be yet to come from age 30 and later.  This simple assumption implies that Youngs would project to a career rWAR of about 53.7 (32.2 /.6), which isn’t all that different from the first approach, when we ended up with an estimate of about 50.  So, we have two different approaches that would put Youngs in about the same overall range.  I feel reasonably confident that RYE would project in the low-to-mid-50’s in career rWAR, and possibly higher.
 
So, let’s assume somewhere in the middle.  Let’s assume RYE would have had a career rWAR of 52.0.  Let’s also assume that his 7-year peak (currently 30.3) would bump up a little because he might have had a couple of post-29 seasons that would have been among his 7-best.  Let’s nudge his "JAWS7" up just a little to 31.0, which is probably on the conservative side as well.  His JAWS figure (average of 52.0 and 31.0) would be 41.5.  Again, I think that’s being conservative.
 
Where would that leave him among right fielders?  Here’s a right fielder JAWS listing (Hall of Famers in yellow, and probable Hall of Famers in blue) that shows where he would land:

 
Rank
Name
JAWS
1
Babe Ruth
123.9
2
Hank Aaron
101.3
3
Stan Musial
96.2
4
Mel Ott
80.3
5
Frank Robinson
80.0
6
Roberto Clemente
74.4
7
Al Kaline
70.7
8
Reggie Jackson
60.3
9
Harry Heilmann
59.6
10
Larry Walker
58.6
11
Paul Waner
57.5
12
Sam Crawford
57.4
13
Shoeless Joe Jackson
57.4
14
Tony Gwynn
54.9
15
Dwight Evans
52.0
16
Ichiro Suzuki
51.7
17
Reggie Smith
51.6
18
Sammy Sosa
51.0
19
Dave Winfield
50.8
20
Bobby Abreu
50.7
21
Vladimir Guerrero
50.2
22
Bobby Bonds
49.4
23
Gary Sheffield
49.1
24
Elmer Flick
47.3
25
Enos Slaughter
45.1
26
Willie Keeler
45.1
27
Brian Giles
44.1
28
Jack Clark
42.1
29
Sam Rice
41.8
30
Harry Hooper
41.5
 
Ross Youngs Extrapolated (RYE)
41.5
31
Tony Oliva
40.8
32
Kiki Cuyler
40.8
33
Chuck Klein
40.2
34
Rocky Colavito
40.0
 
Now, does this make him a slam dunk Hall of Famer? No, it certainly does not.  fdsBut, it does put him into a section of the list where there are plenty of Hall of Famers around him – Flick, Slaughter, Keeler, Rice, Hooper, Cuyler, and Klein, not to mention Oliva, who I think will end up in the Hall one of these days via a Veterans Committee.  Now, at least, he’s got ample company.  He’s no longer on an island.  And I think he was as good a player as the ones in that contingent.
 
I think most people would consider that cluster of right fielders to be "below" average Hall of Fame right fielders, and I think that’s fair.  RYE would not rate as an elite Hall of Fame right fielder.  I think he’d be outside the top 20.  But I do think that RYE would have a chance to be in the 20-30 range of right fielders, and a "below average" Hall of Famer is still a Hall of Famer, and is still a great player.  Speculation?  For sure.  But, I think that’s the group he truly belongs in, rather than sitting down around #70.
 
One more table.   Since Youngs may have had his 1925 and 1926 seasons compromised by his illness, let’s back him up even further and take a look at the top right fielders through age 27 (which would take Youngs through 1924, presumably his last healthy season).  Players had to play 60% or more of their games in right field through age 27 to qualify for this list (source: baseball-reference.com’s Play Index):
 
Rank
Player
rWAR
G
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
1
Mel Ott*
59.0
1,438
5,076
1,032
1,615
275
1,095
815
51
.318
.415
.558
2
Hank Aaron*
55.9
1,194
4,717
829
1,506
253
863
397
57
.319
.371
.565
3
Al Kaline*
48.6
1,304
4,903
792
1,511
188
788
522
88
.308
.374
.493
4
Reggie Jackson*
36.0
926
3,251
533
858
189
536
447
101
.264
.360
.500
5
Shoeless Joe Jackson
35.4
729
2,700
498
986
26
395
292
144
.365
.434
.527
6
Bobby Bonds
33.7
864
3,480
668
961
165
481
405
222
.276
.354
.486
7
Giancarlo Stanton
33.6
972
3,523
565
943
262
653
479
36
.268
.359
.553
8
Jason Heyward
33.2
1,092
3,936
562
1,029
114
454
460
101
.261
.343
.412
9
Johnny Callison
32.6
1,095
4,025
622
1,102
145
522
386
49
.274
.340
.466
10
Sam Crawford*
32.4
1,001
3,902
560
1,207
37
566
278
131
.309
.357
.446
11
Rusty Staub
32.0
1,313
4,623
578
1,300
135
640
619
32
.281
.368
.433
12
Vladimir Guerrero
31.2
892
3,369
570
1,085
209
623
318
114
.322
.386
.588
13
Ross Youngs*
30.8
986
3,755
668
1,245
32
496
447
115
.332
.407
.454
14
Darryl Strawberry
30.1
957
3,361
570
875
215
625
510
176
.260
.358
.520
15
Tony Gwynn*
29.5
769
2,953
471
988
34
284
275
155
.335
.392
.444
16
Jack Clark
28.2
987
3,528
564
969
152
551
454
59
.275
.355
.474
17
Dave Winfield*
28.0
955
3,439
510
980
134
539
384
110
.285
.356
.466
18
Paul Waner*
28.0
747
2,946
605
1,057
46
473
349
55
.359
.430
.537
19
Jesse Barfield
26.3
874
2,915
460
789
156
460
296
48
.271
.341
.493
20
Rocky Colavito
26.1
845
3,007
490
815
209
600
441
8
.271
.364
.532
 
Now, I’m not looking to put everyone on this list in the Hall of Fame, and it’s easy to get carried away with projecting someone’s career based on their first several years.  Sometimes players start out strong and don’t age particularly well, like Callison.  Sometimes their careers unravel for a variety of reasons, like Strawberry.  Sometimes they lose the ability to play acceptable defense, like Staub.  Sometimes they start bouncing around to different teams every year like Bobby Bonds, and their images become tarnished.  Sometimes you get someone like Jason Heyward who rates extraordinarily well defensively by WAR, but doesn’t carry the offensive skill that others do.  But Ross Youngs did have a tremendous start to his career, and it certainly makes me wonder what he might have achieved absent his disease. 
 
Peers
 
Another important part of a player’s Hall of Fame case relates to how he rates relative to peers.  Let’s use 1918-1924, since there is some evidence that Youngs contracted his infection late in 1924, and his 1925 & 1926 seasons may have been compromised.  During Youngs’ peak seasons of 1918-1924, then, this would be the best players by position among NL outfielders, based on rWAR:
 
Year
LF
CF
RF
1918
George Burns
Max Carey
B. Southworth
1919
George Burns
Edd Roush
Ross Youngs
1920
Zack Wheat
Edd Roush
Ross Youngs
1921
A. McHenry
Max Carey
Ross Youngs
1922
Zack Wheat
Max Carey
Curt Walker
1923
Zack Wheat
Max Carey
Ross Youngs
1924
Zack Wheat
Cy Williams
Ross Youngs
 
Drilling down further into just the NL right fielders, here are the top 5 each year.
 
Year
RF (1)
WAR
RF (2)
WAR
RF (3)
WAR
RF (4)
WAR
RF (5)
WAR
1918
B. Southworth
3.6
Ross Youngs
3.0
Al Wickland
2.5
Max Flack
1.9
J. Johnston
1.7
1919
Ross Youngs
3.9
Gavvy Cravath
3.4
Max Flack
2.7
Casey Stengel
2.4
Greasy Neale
1.0
1920
Ross Youngs
6.4
B. Southworth
2.6
Max Flack
2.3
Casey Stengel
2.0
Greasy Neale
1.8
1921
Ross Youngs
3.8
B. Southworth
2.8
Tommy Griffith
2.4
Jack Smith
2.3
P. Whitted
1.5
1922
Curt Walker
3.9
Ross Youngs
3.8
Reb Russell
2.7
G. Harper
2.6
Tommy Griffith
1.6
1923
Ross Youngs
3.6
Clyde Barnhart
3.4
B. Southworth
3.2
George Burns
2.0
Reb Russell
1.4
1924
Ross Youngs
5.9
George Harper
2.3
Eddie Moore
2.3
Curt Walker
2.3
Clyde Barnhart
0.9
 
So, during his peak years, Youngs was clearly the best right fielder in the league, often by a decent margin, and when he wasn’t #1, he was #2.   This gave the Giants a decent advantage over other teams in terms of the quality of play they were getting at that position. If they had All-Star games during this time, I’m sure Youngs would have made several.
 
OK…Let’s broaden it a bit.  How about all National League position players, 1918-1924? (Source=Seamheads.com, where they use "Off" to refer to Offensive Wins above Replacement, and "Fld" to refer to Fielding Wins above Replacement without the position adjustment)
 
Rk
Player
Years
Yrs
Pos
HOF
PA
WAR
Off
Fld
1
Rogers Hornsby
1918 - 1924
7
2B
4,208
61.4
54.8
3.1
2
Ross Youngs
1918 - 1924
7
RF
4,299
30.3
33.3
2.0
3
Frankie Frisch
1919 - 1924
6
2B
3,316
29.2
19.8
6.8
4
Dave Bancroft
1918 - 1924
7
SS
3,927
28.3
15.7
6.3
5
Edd Roush
1918 - 1924
7
CF
3,477
27.6
29.3
0.6
6
Max Carey
1918 - 1924
7
CF
4,130
26.5
26.5
2.5
7
Zack Wheat
1918 - 1924
7
LF
3,946
26.3
30.9
0.1
8
Heinie Groh
1918 - 1924
7
3B
 
3,810
24.6
20.0
1.4
9
Charlie Hollocher
1918 - 1924
7
SS
 
3,390
23.2
14.1
3.6
10
Cy Williams
1918 - 1924
7
CF
 
4,041
21.3
25.7
(1.8)
11
Jack Fournier
1920 - 1924
5
1B
 
2,978
20.9
26.2
(2.4)
12
George Burns
1918 - 1924
7
LF
 
4,376
20.1
19.1
5.5
13
Rabbit Maranville
1918 - 1924
7
SS
3,810
18.8
8.0
5.1
14
Irish Meusel
1918 - 1924
7
LF
 
4,180
17.5
23.2
(0.9)
15
High Pockets Kelly
1919 - 1924
6
1B
3,298
17.3
18.5
2.2
16
Jimmy Johnston
1918 - 1924
7
3B
 
4,042
16.1
15.5
(1.6)
17
Billy Southworth
1918 - 1924
7
RF
 
3,235
15.8
16.2
3.3
18
Art Fletcher
1918 - 1922
4
SS
 
2,054
15.5
4.8
6.9
19
Jake Daubert
1918 - 1924
7
1B
 
3,968
14.7
18.3
0.4
20
Carson Bigbee
1918 - 1924
7
LF
 
3,750
13
13.5
3.5
 
Hornsby kind of laps the field, especially offensively, but Youngs is #2, heading a group of his fellow Hall of Famers Frisch (who only had 6 seasons instead of 7 during this period, which does hurt him a little in the comparisons), Bancroft, Roush, Carey, and Wheat.  These were the best position players over that period of time.  I don’t think Youngs was any better than that group of players….but I think he belongs with them in the discussion of the top players in the NL at that time.
 
If you broaden it to include both leagues, the competition is of course stiffer as the top AL stars of the time like Ruth, Speaker, Cobb, Sisler, Collins, and Heilmann join the party, but Youngs is still top 10 material:
 
Rk
Player
Years
Yrs
Pos
HOF
PA
WAR
Off
Fld
1
Babe Ruth
1918 - 1924
7
LF
4,105
74.1
70.6
4.9
2
Rogers Hornsby
1918 - 1924
7
2B
4,208
61.4
54.8
3.1
3
Tris Speaker
1918 - 1924
7
CF
4,190
46.0
45.8
2.7
4
Ty Cobb
1918 - 1924
7
CF
4,079
39.7
42.6
(0.4)
5
George Sisler
1918 - 1924
6
1B
3,732
37.3
37.5
3.4
6
Eddie Collins
1918 - 1924
7
2B
4,375
36.0
34.6
(1.1)
7
Harry Heilmann
1918 - 1924
7
RF
4,030
35.8
41.6
(1.7)
8
Ken Williams
1918 - 1924
7
LF
 
3,309
30.9
31.8
2.3
9
Ross Youngs
1918 - 1924
7
RF
4,299
30.3
33.3
2.0
10
Frankie Frisch
1919 - 1924
6
2B
3,316
29.2
19.8
6.8
11
Dave Bancroft
1918 - 1924
7
SS
3,927
28.3
15.7
6.3
12
Edd Roush
1918 - 1924
7
CF
3,477
27.6
29.3
0.6
13
Bobby Veach
1918 - 1924
7
LF
 
4,153
27.0
28.8
2.7
14
Harry Hooper
1918 - 1924
7
RF
4,183
26.7
28.1
3.1
15
Max Carey
1918 - 1924
7
CF
4,130
26.5
26.5
2.5
16
Zack Wheat
1918 - 1924
7
LF
3,946
26.3
30.9
0.1
17
Roger Peckinpaugh
1918 - 1924
7
SS
 
4,261
25.7
10.6
8.3
18
Heinie Groh
1918 - 1924
7
3B
 
3,810
24.6
20.0
1.4
19
Sam Rice
1918 - 1924
7
CF
4,026
24.2
24.5
3.0
20
Baby Doll Jacobson
1919 - 1924
6
CF
 
3,742
23.7
22.7
3.4
 
Among outfielders, Ruth was king, of course (well, technically he was "Sultan").  Cobb and Speaker, though getting up in age, were still among the best outfielders in the game, and Heilmann was up there as well.  I think Youngs belongs in the next tier of outfielders, with players like Williams, Roush, Veach, Hooper, Carey, Wheat, and Rice.
 
Again, the point of all of this is not to make Youngs something he’s not.  He wasn’t Ruth or Hornsby or Speaker or Cobb or Collins.  He wasn’t the best player in baseball or in his league.  But he was a very valuable player in his time. 
 
Other Considerations
 
One of the negatives about Youngs is that he rarely led the league in any offensive categories (once in runs scored, once in doubles)….however, he was often near the top in several categories.  He came close to a couple of batting titles, which might have enhanced our image of him if he had managed to claim one or two :
 
  • He finished 3rd in 1919 with a .311 mark, but was behind Edd Roush (.321) and Rogers Hornsby (.318). 
 
  • He finished 2nd in batting average in 1921 with a  .351 mark.  Unfortunately for him, Hornsby hit .370. 
 
  • He finished 3rd in 1924 with a .356 figure, his career high.  Unfortunately, Hornsby had his legendary .424 season, and Zack Wheat also hit .375. 
 
Hornsby, much like Cobb and Wagner did before, had a way of monopolizing NL batting titles and relegating all other contenders into a battle for runner-up status. 
 
Although Youngs never led the league in walks and his walk totals don’t jump out at you as being particularly impressive (his career high was 77), he nevertheless was proficient in that area and was generally among the league leaders of his era.   He finished in the top 10 in walks in 7 different seasons, often behind his teammate George Burns, who was the Giants’ primary leadoff hitter in that era.
 
Top 10 NL Base on Balls Finishes:
1918 NL  44 (10th) (NL leader: M. Carey 62)
1919 NL  51 (6th) (NL leader: G. Burns 82)
1920 NL  75 (2nd) (NL leader: G. Burns 76)
1921 NL  71 (2nd) (NL leader: G. Burns 80)
1923 NL  73 (3rd) (NL leader: G. Burns 101)
1924 NL  77 (3rd) (NL leader: R. Hornsby 89)
1925 NL  66 (4th) (NL leader: J. Fournier 86)
 
Combined with his shiny batting average and ability to take a walk, Youngs generally had strong On-Base Percentages.  His lowest single season OBP was .354, and he was typically .380 or above.  He finished just a hair under .400 for his career (.399).  Youngs was top 10 in OBP in each of his first 7 seasons as a regular (1918-1924):
 
Top 10 NL OBP Finishes:
1918 NL  .368 (6th) (NL leader: H. Groh .395)
1919 NL  .384 (4th) (NL leader: G. Burns .396)
1920 NL  .427 (2nd) (NL leader: R. Hornsby .431)
1921 NL  .411 (3rd) (NL leader: R. Hornsby .458)
1922 NL  .398 (9th) (NL leader: R. Hornsby .459)
1923 NL  .412 (4th) (NL leader: R. Hornsby .459)
1924 NL  .441 (2nd) (NL leader: R. Hornsby .507)
 
That Hornsby guy sure had a way of spoiling anyone else’s plans leading the league in these categories, didn’t he?
 
So, in batting average, walks, and OBP, Youngs was generally in the top 10, and often in the top  2 or 3….but never first.
 
During most of Youngs’ career, there weren’t annual awards given out in the National League.  There was an "MVP" award that the NL gave out from 1924-1929, so that Youngs really only had a couple of seasons in which he would have even been reasonably considered, given his decline that began after 1924.  In that 1924 season, Youngs did place 5th in the NL MVP voting behind Dazzy Vance, Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, and Zack Wheat, which is probably right about where he deserved to finish.   It’s hard to say where he might have finished in the years prior to 1924 if awards were given out.  He might have placed reasonably high in 1920.   The other years, I’m not so sure.
 
Despite his brief career, Youngs ranks #6 in career assists by right fielders.  Is that possibly influenced in some way by playing at the Polo Grounds?  Perhaps.  That might be an interesting study.  Mel Ott had a lot of career assists while calling the Polo Grounds home as well.  But Youngs really piled them up during his brief career. 
 
Career Leaders, Assists by Right Fielders:
Rank
Player
Years
RF Assists (since 1913)
1
Roberto Clemente
18
254
2
Harry Hooper
17
250
3
Mel Ott
22
239
4
Paul Waner
20
238
5
Sam Rice
20
197
6
Ross Youngs
10
190
7
Tommy Griffith
13
186
8
Hank Aaron
23
179
9
Harry Heilmann
17
174
10
Chuck Klein
17
172
 
Here is how he placed annually among right fielders in assists during his career, leading the league more often than not.
 
1918 NL  16 (4th)
1919 NL  23 (1st)
1920 NL  26 (1st)
1921 NL  16 (4th)
1922 NL  28 (1st)
1923 NL  22 (1st)
1924 NL  17 (1st)
1925 NL  24 (2nd)
1926 NL  18 (5th)
 
In addition, Youngs had a very good general reputation as a defensive right fielder.  This may not mean a whole lot, but when I was young I used to play a lot of "All Time All Star" board games (I played the Sports Illustrated version), and Youngs was one of the highest rated defensive corner outfielders.  I suspect that their ratings were mostly based on a player’s reputation.   As I recall, in that particular board game, only Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, and Harry Hooper had higher ratings among corner outfielders (the center fielders like Mays, Speaker, DiMaggio, etc., tended to have high ratings as well).
 
His manager, John McGraw, was quoted as saying about Youngs:
 
"He was the greatest outfielder I ever saw.  He was the greatest fighter I ever saw on a baseball field. The game was never over with Youngs until the last man was out. He could do everything a baseball player should do and do it better than most players. As an outfielder, he had no superiors. And he was the easiest man I ever knew to handle. In all his years with the Giants he never caused one minute's trouble for myself or the club. And a gamer player than Youngs never played ball."
 
Is there some bias in that?  I’m sure.  But I do think he had a legitimately good defensive reputation.  It’s easy to see him winning at least a couple of Gold Gloves had they existed at the time, although Edd Roush and Max Carey probably would have monopolized a couple of the outfield slots with their own reputations, and Youngs’ team mate George Burns might have been a contender as well.
 
What else?  During his peak years prior to his decline, his OPS+, which adjusts OPS for time and place, was a healthy 137, meaning his adjusted OPS was 37% better than league average.  His final career mark of 130 undoubtedly would have slid some more had he played longer and had a decline phase, but I suspect he’d have remained well over 120 for his career even if he had played for several more seasons.
 
Of course, there were no All-Star games               during Youngs’ career, but I believe he would have made several of them.  As mentioned before, he was generally the best NL right fielder during his prime, and usually among the top NL outfielders.  I would put him in a group with Edd Roush, Zack Wheat, and Max Carey as the top NL outfielders of that time frame.  I think he would have made several All-Star teams.
 
Youngs appeared 19 times on various Hall of Fame ballots between 1936 and 1956.  Of course, those earlier ones were jam-packed with candidates as the Hall of Fame was just starting to induct its legends.  His highest % total was realized in 1947, when he was named on 22.4% of the ballots, right in between his contemporaries that have been mentioned many times already in this article -  Zack Wheat (23.0%) and Edd Roush (15.5%).  Although not a high vote total, it does give some sense as to how the writers considered him compared to others.  They didn’t just write him off as a non-candidate due to his short career. 
 
One last note about Youngs is that he had some interesting batting splits.  He was a little better hitter on the road, although he hit over 70% of his home runs at the Polo Grounds.  On the road, he had many fewer home runs, but twice as many triples as he did at home.  Other than those 2 categories, it’s a fairly even split:
 
Split
G
GS
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
Home
605
602
2,564
2,212
378
702
118
32
30
307
82
270
0.317
.396
.440
Away
606
597
2,772
2,416
434
789
118
61
12
288
71
282
0.327
.401
.441
 
I think his batting order split is especially interesting. 
Split
G
GS
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Batting 1st
210
210
990
884
190
292
46
19
12
82
19
94
.330
.398
.466
.864
Batting 2nd
309
309
1,353
1,167
180
344
59
19
7
104
49
141
.295
.377
.396
.773
Batting 3rd
276
276
1,229
1,061
171
360
46
23
11
144
37
131
.339
.416
.457
.873
Batting 4th
223
222
971
824
142
256
41
20
5
146
30
114
.311
.395
.427
.822
Batting 5th
176
176
756
661
125
230
43
12
7
117
16
68
.348
.415
.481
.896
Batting 6th
7
6
27
22
3
5
1
-
-
2
2
4
.227
.346
.273
.619
Batting 8th
1
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
 
 
 
 
Batting 9th
9
-
10
9
1
4
-
-
-
-
-
-
.444
.444
.444
.889
 
That’s a pretty even split among the first 5 batting order positions – He batted 2nd and 3rd more than any in other position, but just barely.  He batted leadoff as often as he hit cleanup.   He never really was pigeonholed in a particular slot, and he was moved around pretty freely in the order by McGraw.  I’m not mentioning this as supporting evidence of anything….I just thought it was interesting.
 
Wrapping it Up
 
In general, I’d have to say that I agree with the notion that the "Frisch related" selections were a low point for the Veterans Committee.  We certainly should denounce cronyism where we see it.  Unfortunately, one of the byproducts of this sentiment is that Ross Youngs tends to be diminished in the eyes of fans because of this broad sweep.  Rather than remember him strictly as the beneficiary of favoritism, I prefer to also remember him as one of the better players of his era, a significant contributor to a team that won 4 consecutive pennants, and a player who unfortunately is missing a significant portion of his career due to a disease. 
 
I know that it can be a dangerous path to go down when trying to project a player’s career based on his early performance.  Many players look like potential Hall of Famers early in their careers.   We can play the "what if" game with players like Tony Conigliaro, Pete Reiser, Darryl Strawberry, and Cesar Cedeno.  But, somehow, the question of unfulfilled potential seems a little different when a player passes away too soon as opposed to an injury or some other issue.  Maybe there shouldn’t be a distinction, and if you aren’t available to provide value to your team, then it’s just tough luck.  Still, the premature loss of one’s life seems, to me, like a different category, and we should be open to treating it as such.
 
It’s funny, but in other fields, great performers who pass away too soon are still honored.  In my previous article, I made a reference to Jimi Hendrix, who died at 27 but is the consensus choice for the best guitar player ever.  However, look at others that are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that died at an early age:  Janis Joplin died at 27.  Otis Redding was 26.  Tupac Shakur was 25.  Hank Williams died at 29.  Buddy Holly was a mere 22 and Ritchie Valens only 17 on "the day the music died".  Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain are not enshrined as individuals, but as part of The Doors and Nirvana, respectively.   They both died at 27.  Some passed away from drugs, some from accidents, some from other causes. 
 
In other forms of entertainment, you also see names like Jean Harlow and James Dean, who passed away at 26 and 24, respectively, but are honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  They all were gone too soon, and they all put up bodies of work that appear small and limited when compared to others with longer careers, but they were all honored among the legends in their fields due to the impact they made during their brief time as performers.
 
I feel like Youngs didn’t have to get better to be a Hall of Famer…he just needed to stay around longer and add some bulk to his totals.  He’s clearly not an "A" or a "B" level Hall of Famer.  He’s a "below-average" Hall of Famer, I have no doubt about that.  But a below-average Hall of Famer is still a Hall of Famer
 
I think Youngs is of the same general quality as other Hall of Fame right fielders like Elmer Flick, Enos Slaughter, Sam Rice, Willie Keeler, Harry Hooper, Kiki Cuyler, and Chuck Klein.  If you think that these players are below the line of where the Hall of Fame should be drawn, then that’s one thing.  People are certainly entitled to think that way.  But I think Ross Youngs, when you reasonably factor in the time he lost, stacks up favorably to the established Hall of Fame line at his position. 
 
I prefer to think of him not as the beneficiary of cronyism, but as someone who had demonstrated and established a level of ability and accomplishment in this sport.  He was the best at his position for a number of years.  He was among the best outfielders in his era.  He was arguably the 2nd best player on a great team that won 4 straight pennants and 2 World Series.  I think he would have had a decent collection of All-Star games and Gold Gloves had they existed at the time.  I prefer to think of him in that light, and to appreciate his career for what it was, despite its brevity. 
 
As always, thanks for reading.

Dan   
 
 

COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

danjeffers
It looks like Youngs has some parallels with Kirby Puckett. He's in the same ballpark, so to speak, in the JAWs numbers, but was struck by his illness having played only 10 years instead of the 12 Kirby played.
1:59 PM Oct 12th
 
Manushfan
Nice job. It's easy to get caught up in the grouping of these guys as some bad Thing that happened, because of Frisch etc.-and to lose sight of just how Good some of them were. Youngs was cut down early. I think this is a needed corrective-didn't Bill say he was comparable to Pete Rose way back when? Looks right to me.

Breaking down his career like this took some work. Good going.

I also will venture an opinion-Bottomley isn't all that horrible a choice either.
5:21 PM Sep 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
David Wright, for sure. Ruben Sierra had 20.0 lifetime WAR at age 26, ended his career at 40 in the mid-teens WAR.
4:50 PM Sep 26th
 
evanecurb
Here's a project for Hall of Fame afficionados: Top 10 (or 20, or 50) players who were on a Hall of Fame path at age 29 but aren't yet in. From the 70s and 80s alone, there's Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, George Foster, Thurman Munson, Darryl Strawberry, and lotsof others. It's a large pool from which to choose. These guys would all have benefited from having a friend like Frankie Frisch.
9:09 AM Sep 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Did you know that the novelist Nathanael West (Day of the Locust, Miss Lonelyhearts, etc) was also known as "Pep" but that nickname was sarcastic--West was considered one of the laziest people on the planet. True story, bro.
4:40 PM Sep 24th
 
DMBBHF
Bruce,

Thanks for the comments.

Oliva's one of my favorites. I'm thinking of making him and his Hall of Fame case the subject of an upcoming article, although I don't want to be too redundant with Bill's Keltner List feature of him from "The Politics of Glory", where he reviewed both Oliva and Cepeda. I'll need to find some other observations and angles.

Thanks,
Dan
12:15 PM Sep 24th
 
evanecurb
Daniel: Excellent research. The thing that jumped out at me was that Tony Oliva's total career was similar to Ross Youngs Extended. Tony Oliva Uninjured and Extended (i.e. if he had made it to the big leagues before age 25 and if he had not had the multiple knee injuries) would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer.
9:52 AM Sep 24th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks, Steven. I appreciate it.
9:41 PM Sep 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
What fine writing, Dan. Excellent (and witty) research. Bravo!
3:03 PM Sep 23rd
 
 
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